NOW 18: Festival Focus

Producer Ashleigh Wheeler tells us what to expect from NOW 18, The Yard Theatre’s festival of cutting-edge performance.

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If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to take more chances with the shows you see, The Yard Theatre’s NOW festival is a perfect way to kick off the year.

The Hackney Wick venue has a reputation for programming challenging, groundbreaking, experiential theatre. And during the annual NOW festival, it is at its most risk-taking.

Producer Ashleigh Wheeler tells us more about the festival and what to expect in 2018:

Lucy Hutson & Stacy Makishi, part of NOW 18 at The Yard Theatre
Lucy Hutson & Stacy Makishi, part of NOW 18 at The Yard Theatre

What is NOW?

It is The Yard Theatre’s flagship festival of new theatre and performance, created by the UK’s most exciting artists making theatre right now. Each week for five weeks there’s a different double bill of artists at the top of their game. They’re sharing new shows that are electrifying, celebratory, hallucinogenic and radical. It’s some of the best work around.

Has the festival changed since it was first launched?

One of the big changes is that we used to pair artists who were at different stages in their careers. One artist at the top of their game would be teamed with one who’s starting out. But this year, for the first time, all 10 artists are leading the way in contemporary performance-making. They make shows that surprise, seduce, create a new world and totally defy definition. For audiences, this is going to make all five weeks of NOW 18 totally unmissable.

We’re going to be launching a festival called NEXT for new artists later this year, so there are still plenty of opportunities for artists at all stages of their careers to make work for The Yard stage.

Katherine Araniello and Katy Baird, part of NOW 18 at The Yard Theatre
Katherine Araniello and Katy Baird, part of NOW 18 at The Yard Theatre

What do you look for when programming the festival?

One of the things that defines a show at The Yard is that it genuinely feels like an experience. One you have to be there for. One that’s hard to describe in words. But one you want everyone you know to be a part of, too. That’s never more true than of a NOW show.

A really good example is when I first saw The Araniello Show by Katherine Araniello, which is on during week three of NOW 18 in double bill with Katy Baird. It’s about dating when you have physical disabilities. It’s about pity-porn. And it’s about oversharing. But the main memory I have is how it felt watching it. It was so hilarious, so dark and so celebratory at the same time. I just stood with my mouth open and my whole body shaking with a mixture of shock and laughter. I looked at my friend next to me and knew he was experiencing the same thing.

Which show would you recommend for someone who’s never been to NOW before?

The show I’m most regularly telling newbies to come to is Stacy Makishi’s The Comforter (in double bill with Lucy Hutson’s Bi-Curious George And Other Sidekicks), which is kicking off the festival. Stacy’s shows are beautifully warm, accessible, tender, funny and moving. Just being in her presence is a total joy. The Comforter is a show that reclaims spirituality through ’90s pop culture and George Michael. It will be the perfect mix of big ideas and even bigger feelings. Restorative performance for all ages from nine to 90.

Anton Mirto and Emma Frankland, part of NOW 18 at The Yard Theatre
Anton Mirto and Emma Frankland, part of NOW 18 at The Yard Theatre

Which show would you recommend for someone who’s a NOW regular?

I think NOW aficionados should be really excited about the return of Anton Mirto (of dance company A2) in week five, who will be in double bill with Emma Frankland. Anton’s show Earning Innocence at NOW 14 was a lot of people’s favourite piece that year. It used tinfoil in a way you couldn’t imagine unless you’d seen it. Anton’s show this year, The Army, sees a group of women march against apathy, for healing, purpose and power. It will be reviving, beautiful and totally unique.

What is your own NOW highlight?

I’m really excited for Your Sexts Are Shit by the brilliant, wickedly funny and wildly clever Rachel Mars (in double bill with Nick Cassenbaum). It’s a show comparing historical sex letters from people like James Joyce and Frida Kahlo with modern-day sexts. If I know Rachel, it’ll be a smart, queer, raunchy show about sex, love and how we talk about it.

NOW 18 runs at The Yard Theatre from 16 January to 17 February.